The Rev. Deacon Katharine Holland preached this sermon for the First Sunday of Advent.
“. . . we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” [Isaiah 64:8]
“Restore us, O God . . .” [Psalm 80:7a]
As we begin this Advent season, our readings focus on “end times,” when God will return in the form of Christ Jesus; & the history of the world, as we know it, will come to its conclusion. In the mean time, we are charged to “Keep awake,” to be ready for that ultimate reckoning with God.
If you’ve been reading the daily lectionary, you heard the prophet Joel warn of “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” [Joel 3:14]. And it is a decision that we are each called upon to make. When faced with this ultimate decision, where do we fall in our beliefs? Have we gained the wisdom to choose God? Have we allowed God to be at work in our lives so that there is no question of where we stand? How much of a force is God in our day to day existence – how malleable have we become in his hands, how ready to give up our own desires for God’s more profound authority?
Choosing God means choosing Light, when all other options lead to darkness. It is only in being open to this God of Light that we allow ourselves to be molded in his image – “to put on the armor of light”, as it says in today’s Collect. We have the invitation in our grasp; but do we choose to accept its consequences, dying to self & putting on Christ?
Choosing God means allowing God to work in us right now, in the present. It’s not something to be put off to a more convenient time – when we’re more ready, less busy, older, more mature, ready to give up some of the worldly pleasures we enjoy; or, hardest of all, letting go of our own feelings of freedom – doing what we want, when we want, & the way we want, with no interference from God. This hope in God’s ultimate presence in our lives comes at a price, & it does not exempt us from acting in the present.
Christian hope lies in the turning over of our lives to God NOW . . . fully, without procrastination, without conditions, believing that the future belongs to God. If we are to have any hope of a future, it is with God & with God’s help, for only God can overcome our failings as they exist in us – personally, socially, economically, & politically. We must be ready to respond, to surrender to God’s grace, & be open to His will, so that the Word can become flesh in us. If we are not acting from this place of union with God, then we act alone from our own ego.
As committed Christians, we are being asked to act, “by faith, in the needy present [but] in light of the fulfilled future” which is yet to be revealed. [Craig Mac Coll 12/1/96] We can then act in harmony with God, to bring hope to a world mired in chaos & despair.
As one commentator observed, “When all the devices & desires of our hearts have been exhausted, & there is nothing more we can do – as persons, as communities, as nations, as a world – what is left? Watching & waiting. Yet many of us find waiting & watching difficult in our busy, activity-oriented lives. We like to keep busy. We like to do. We like to get on with it. Because, perhaps, if we stop to wait or to watch, we might discover the loneliness & emptiness that lie below the surface of our activity . . .
And that is the first step in Advent – the honest discovery inherent in waiting & acknowledging our need for God’s coming.” [“Synthesis”, 11/30/08]
Advent is about our yearning for God & our seeking to find fulfillment for that yearning. It “is about waiting. About wondering. And yes – it is about fear, the fear that the way will be lost. And in that fear, Advent is also about hope.” [Richard J. Fairchild] Because “waiting,” says Henri Houwen, “allows us to be people who can live in a very chaotic world & survive spiritually.” [Henri Nouwen, “Watch for the Light”] We can make a choice to detach ourselves from all the busy-ness & hectic build-up to the holiday & instead learn to quiet ourselves – to watch, to ponder & to live into what is unseen, but infinitely more valuable in the end. “No wonder”, one author speculates, “the ambience of Advent – in contrast to the noisy agitation of the Holiday Season – is one of hushed wakefulness.” [“Synthesis”, 11/30/08] Stay awake! Be alert to the movement of God in your life! And accept the challenge of living fully in each moment, in God’s present & into God’s future – for it is – all of it – in God’s hands & waiting – spread like a banquet – for our taking.
In closing, I’d like to share a prayer I came across from Richard John Neuhaus:
“Father in heaven,
you came to earth in the person of your Son, Jesus Christ.
As the coming of your Spirit upon Mary
inspired her to welcome the One who is her child and her lord,
so also open our eyes to the gift already given.
Forgive us our restless searching for your presence
according to our expectations . . .
Fill our every moment
with his threefold advent.
As then he came
and now he comes
and will one day come again,
awaken us to the then & now & one day
of his presence in this present moment.
As we put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
may all our time be clothed by eternity
until we find ourselves at last
in the home you have prepared for seekers & searchers
who, in our seeking & searching,
were hopelessly lost.
Give us the grace to surrender to being found.
This we ask in the name above every name, the name of Jesus Christ.
Amen. Let it be.”